Boulevard Of Bold Dreams Explores a Historic Moment

ORLANDO — The new Orlando Shakes production, Boulevard Of Bold Dreams, opens on a unique day in movie history. It’s Feb. 29 1940 at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where the 12th Academy Awards ceremony will be held. It turned out to be a night that broke barriers when actress Hattie McDaniel became the first black performer to win an Academy Award, in this case for best supporting actress for her role as Mammy in Gone With The Wind.

This original play by LaDarrion Williams focuses on a bar inside the hotel, where a bartender and a maid, both African American, are setting up for the big night, in anticipation of McDaniel’s possible history-making win. Then to their surprise, McDaniel herself comes into the bar, having arrived early for the ceremony and eager to get a few quiet moments away from the press and crowds outside.

It would seem like the ideal setting for a play about a historic triumph, one that focuses on the immense pride of this personal victory in a time of horrific racial segregation. But Williams approaches the story in a far different, and considerably more complex, way.

What is the Play Boulevard Of Bold Dreams?

In the play, which opened on Friday and runs through Oct. 29, Brent Jordan plays Arthur Brooks, a bartender who came to Los Angeles from Alabama for the same reason so many others did: looking for opportunity in the glittering world of Hollywood. Arthur is writing a screenplay for a movie with an all-black cast and hopes to direct it at well.

Lauren Muller is Dottie Hudson, who came out there with Arthur because he insisted she could carve out a great career as a singer, and indeed Dottie has a beautiful voice. But whereas Arthur still has high ambitions to rise in Hollywood, Dottie has become jaded. In-between cleaning rooms, she is constantly pouring herself a drink. She thinks Hollywood only wants black performers to play maids and domestic help, in the movies that portray blacks as distinctly inferior to their successful white employers.

When Hattie, played Yvette Monique Clark, shows up asking if she can sit quietly for a few minutes and get away from the buzz outside, the reactions to her are a stark contrast. Arthur is starry-eyed and overjoyed, convinced that she truly can win the Oscar. But Dottie is cynical. Even if Hattie does win, she points out, it was for a degrading role that played up the worst stereotypes of blacks.

The most interesting twist in all this comes from Hattie herself. On one hand, she’s proud to have found success in Hollywood, knowing the limited options available to black performers, and how hard it is to break through persistent racial barriers. She used to be as cynical and downbeat as Dottie, she points out, but finally realized that you only get ahead by fighting for it, even if it means doing it in small steps.

But she’s also feeling weary. Weary that the studio has given her a speech to read, rather than letting her just speak from the heart. Weary that she’s enduring the humiliation of being required to sit at a segregated table at the far back of the banquet hall. Weary that civil rights groups such as the NAACP are protesting both Gone For The Wind and her only role in it for endorsing rather than condemning slavery.

Tired of the seemingly uphill battle she keeps facing, Hattie makes a starting decision: she isn’t going to the ceremony after all. It just isn’t worth it.

The radically different reaction from Arthur and Dottie set the stage for the remainder of this compelling drama.

How is the Orlando Shakes Production of this Play?

The play, which runs for 93 minutes in the Goldman Theater, gets a tremendous boost from the energetic and passionate work by the three actors. Clark does a marvelous job portraying a woman who wants to project a sense of dignity, of pride in her accomplishments, and a full understanding of the historic moment that she’s a part of … but who just as easily can’t mask her doubts, anxieties and frustrations about how challenging it was to get there. This is a character who shifts through several transformations, from motherly to Arthur and Dottie and supportive of their ambitions to being ready to quit. Williams’ creation of this character and Clark’s portrayal are both riveting.

Jordan and Muller are equally good dramatizing the contrast between those like Arthur, who refuse to cast aside their dreams no matter how difficult it may be to achieve them, and those like Dottie who feel there are too many hurdles to overcome and the easier path is to be wide-eyed and realistic.

There are moments when the play feels like it might be taking on too much dramatic effect, include a sexual assault that comes startlingly out of nowhere. But the three performers provide the kind of invigorating performances that keep the show feeling positively electric.

Where Can I See Boulevard Of Bold Dreams?

Boulevard Of Bold Dreams is being performed at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater at 812 E. Rollins St. in Loch Haven Park. The show runs for 93 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available by calling the theater’s box office at 407-447-1700.

Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book A Christmas Eve Story. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *